Pardon me for using a title influenced by one of the most contentious issues in America about human lives mattering , but Classical Music does matter in our world . It's not dying by any means , even though it has the same kind of serious problems which exist in any field of human endeavor , but it in't as some people would claim , a trivial matter of little importance to mankind . America is the part of the world most seriously hit by these problems, and the very existence of so many of its hundreds of symphony orchestras and opera companies is threatened because of financial difficulties , lack of government subsidies , and an aging audience among other things .
Imagine a worst case scenario where all of America's orchestras, opera companies , chamber ensembles, choruses etc went under . An enormous of people would be out of work, not only the musicians, singers , but the many people who work behind the scenes in administration, public relations etc. People in every U.S. state would be left without the chance to experience great music live , a much larger number than most people in America realize . A large number of composers would be left without a chance to have new works premiered . Not a pleasant thing to contemplate . Not good for the U.S. economy, either , because so many talented, dedicated and hard working people would be out of work . Yes, if our symphony orchestras and opera companies
flourish, they help the economy to do better as a whole .
The world could function without classical music, but it would be a far drabber and more joyless pace without it . It's wonderful to have so much classical music on compact disk , DVD , and the internet , but there's no substitute for hearing it live . So many people love the opportunity to take a break from their daily grind at work to attend concerts of their local symphony orchestra or opera company , and the thrill of traveling to such major centers of classical music as New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna , and elsewhere to experience the magic of live classical music .
Hearing the immortal masterworks of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert , Wagner, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak , Debussy, Ravel, Verdi, Puccini , and so many other great composers live is something which really makes life worth living for so many people all over the world , not only Europeans and Americans .
And unfortunately , too many people are unaware of how much more interesting and enjoyable their lives could be if they made the effort to get to know classical music and make it part of their lives . Either because they are simply unaware of how enjoyable it can be or because they blindly accept the myth of classical music being "stuffy, boring and elitist ". Yes, this myth has closed the minds of too many people who might otherwise love it .
Just attend a performance, for example at the Metropolitan opera or one of the world's other great opera houses in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin , Moscow, Prague, St. Petersburg , Russia or elsewhere . The audiences there aren't the stereotypical image of
bored rich people sitting in their boxes showing off their fancy clothes and Jewelry , but more like sports fans rooting for their home team , albeit not as loud and rowdy as sports fans can be . The opera fans are rooting for their favorite opera singers and following the action of the opera as closely as sports fans are following the game . The atmosphere in the opera house is electric, not the least bit dull or boring ! The audience applauds and cheers loudly and yells bravo ! But here, at a great performance, there are no losers . Everybody wins - the cast, the conductor, the chorus, the audience, even the many people who work behind the scenes producing the opera as stage hands etc .
Audiences are also extremely enthusiastic at orchestral concerts . After the performance, the fans discuss and argue over the merits of the performance the same way sports fans argue over games . So much for being "stuffy and boring ". And is classical music "elitist ?" No. The term elitist implies that orchestras and opera companies are trying to exclude people who aren't rich and white, but nothing could be farther from the truth . They don't care who you are as long as you buy tickets and enjoy the performances , and they very much want to attract more people to them . Why do they have public outreach programs and publicity agents if not to try to attract more people ?
If anyone who is not a fan of classical music and knows little about it ever tells you that classical music is just a frivolous entertainment for the few , please tell that person 'Don't knock it if you haven't tried it !" And please try to disabuse such people of their misconceptions . Yes, classical music does matter much more than so many people realize .
In recent years , the brilliantly gifted French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin , 41 , has become one of the most acclaimed and sought after conductors in the world , and has been music director of the world famous Philadelphia orchestra since
2012 . And he has just been chosen to step into another highly prestigious position as music director of the Metropolitan opera , succeeding the eminent but now ailing James Levine , who will remain as music director emeritus .
These are two enormous responsibilities , and the question being asking by many leading music critics and others is can he manage to devote his time and energy to both jobs without spreading himself too thin ? Only time will tell , but the mood at the
troubled giant of American opera is optimistic , as it has managed to engage a man of enormous talent and charisma for this colossal job .
Nezet-Seguin had been been seen as the most likely conductor to succeed Levine for some time in the opera world , as he had already conducted several operas there to enormous critical and audience acclaim and is not only highly respected but well liked by the Met's magnificent orchestra, one of the finest in the world . The Montreal native is also currently music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic in the Netherlands, another esteemed orchestra and of Montreal's Metropolitan orchestra and is principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic .
Because of his extremely busy schedule , Nezet-Seguin will not officially take over his position at the Met until 2020 , but he will be conducting at least two operas per season until he does and will be closely involved with planning and decision making
there . Many eminent conductors in our time have divided their time between two or more positions , so what Nezet-Seguin is doing is nothing new . It's impossible for one conductor to lead seven performances a week from September through May at the Met of as many as 25 different operas by a wide variety of composers , or to conduct a different orchestra program every week of a major orchestra such as the Philadelphia . In the past, the seasons of opera companies and orchestras were not nearly as long as they are today , so it is necessary to have a wide variety of guest conductors .
Nezet-Seguin has also been making recordings ,most taken from live performances for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone label in Philadelphia, Rotterdam and elsewhere , including a recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the Philadelphians , and a series of Mozart operas recorded in Europe using the renowned Chamber Orchestra of Europe with some of today's leading opera singers .
Filling the shoes of James Levine, who has devoted more than 40 years to the Metropolitan opera and achieved so much, will be no easy task . Levine also served for some time as music director of the Boston symphony and previously the Munich Philharmonic , but failing health , including severe back trouble , sciatica, arm tremor , an operation to remove a cancerous kidney , accidents and Parkinson's disease have taken their toll on the revered maestro , now turning 73 .
The choice of operas has to be done several years in advance at the Met, and some of its future repertoire is already known, so it remains to be seen which operas will be done under Nezet-Seguin beyond this time . Everyone is hoping for the Met's repertoire to remain as varied and interesting as it has been in recent years , and many critics are hoping for the Met to devote more of its time to new or recent operas than it has been . But for the time being, things are looking up for the Metropolitan opera .
I've just read an absorbing new book by the distinguished German conductor Christian Thielemann ( Tee-leh-mahn ) , who is currently chief conductor of the renowned Saxon State opera of Dresden and its equally renowned resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden . "My Life With Wagner " is the story of a lifelong devotion to the music of Richard Wagner , the most controversial composer in the history of classical music and opera . Born in Berlin in 1959 , Christian Thielemann grew up there as the son of musical parents who took him to opera performances and concerts of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic when he was still a child and who encouraged his study of music . Young Christian became fascinated with the music of Wagner from an early age while also diligently studying the music of other great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others .
He became an accomplished pianist as a teenager and also studied the viola . But he aspired to become a conductor , and his talents brought him to the attention of no less than the legendary Austrianmaestro Herbert Von Karajan , the powerful and influential chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , who took him under his wing and made him an assistant . Karajan was also a world famous Wagner conductor and this opened doors to the talented and ambitious young Berliner . But he took the traditional path toward becoming a conductor in Germany , working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor in the opera companies of the smaller German cities and working his way up toward leading larger opera companies as well as conducting orchestral concerts allover Germany and Europe . Soon he made his debut at the legendary Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany , conducting most of the 10 extant Wagner operas which are performed there every Summer .
By the 1990s he had become music director of the German Opera in Berlin, the opera company of what used to be West Berlin , the one in East Berlin being the Berlin State opera . He then became chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic , and was appearing regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic and other prestigious European orchestras, as well as making U.S. debut leading the top American orchestras and making his Metropolitan opera debut . Thielemann became renowned as one of the most important interpreters of the great German masters such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner , Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner , without neglecting new music altogether as well as conducting music by non-german composers everywhere .
Thielemann began to make recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone record label of the symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner , Schumann and the orchestral works Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Philharmonia orchestra of London , and the Munich Philharmonic .
His performances of Wagner's monumental " were Ring of the Nibelungen " at Bayreuth were issued both on CD and DVD . Thielemann came to be seen as the successor to Karajan as a master interpreter of the great German and Austrian composers , although he was passed over by the Berlin Philharmonic to become chief conductor there recently to succeed the renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle , losing out to the surprise choice, the Russian Kiril Petrenko . One reason appears to have been his relatively limited repertoire . Rattle has a very wide repertoire and has always been a staunch champion on contemporary music . However, Thielemann retains his highly prestigious position in Dresden , where he has conducted both opera and orchestral concerts with enormous success as well as touring internationally his Dresden forces .
"My life With Wagner " contains a wealth of fascinating information about Thielemann's formation as a conductor as well as his penetrating comments on Wagner and his immortal operas . You learn what it is like to conduct Wagner operas in the theater , which is a task of daunting complexity and formidable challenges both technical and interpretive . The maestro's description of what it is like to conduct in the famous sunken orchestra pit at the Bayreuth festival opera house , out of sigh of the audience and visible only to the singers , which is no easy task , is fascinating . This is unlike the orchestra put of any other opera house and makes it very difficult for the conductor to keep everything together . However, the acoustics of the famous festival theater are world famous for their sonic splendor , and the sunken orchestra, with the powerful brass instruments 17 feet beneath the stage make it impossible for the orchestra to drown the singers out , which is something very difficult to avoid in other opera houses with Wagner's large and powerful orchestra .
Thielemann learned so much from the advice and influence of Karajan and other leading Austrian and German conductors and observing them in action at rehearsals and performances . For those who may not be very familiar with the great Wagner operas, Thielemann provides the synopses of the operas and describes how Wagner composed them and how the works are constructed both musically and dramatically . Wagner wrote the librettos of all his operas , unlike most other opera composers .
The book is published by Pegasus books and I cannot recommend it too highly .
A few months ago , the highly respected Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden (Yaap Fan Zvay-den ) 55, was appointed to be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic , where he will succeed the American Alan Gilbert in 2018 . Van Zweden is currently music director of the excellent Dallas symphony orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic , and has been making quite a name for himself with leading orchestras of Europe and America as a guest conductor ; he has appeared with considerable success with the New York Philharmonic several times and was one of several eminent conductors under consideration to succeed Gilbert when he steps down .
One of them was the distinguished Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is currently the orchestra's composer in residence, but he declined the job because he wants to have enough time to concentrate on composing as well as
conducting . The orchestra's home in Lincoln Center, David Geffen hall, formerly Avery Fisher hall , will be closed for some time beginning in 2019 for extensive renovation in the hopes of improving its acoustics, long considered problematical , and the
orchestra's management is seeking a temporary venue or venues for the transition period .
Van Zweden began as a highly gifted violinist and had studied in his native Netherlands and at the Juilliard school , which is located right next to Geffen hall . At the age of 19 he became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the renowned Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , one of the world's foremost orchestras , playing under many of the world's most renowned conductors . Among these was the legendary Leonard Bernstein , who asked him to conduct the orchestra at a rehearsal one day so he could check the orchestra's playing from the auditorium ( conductors often do this at rehearsals to check the balance between the various sections of the orchestra to achieve clarity and transparency of sound etc ) . Van Zweden was taken aback as he had no conducting experience, but Bernstein sensed that he had potential to be a conductor , and the rest as they say, is history .
So Van Zweden gave up his career as a violinist and began to achieve success as a conductor , eventually becoming chief conductor of the Netherland Radio orchestra in Amsterdam and was appointed music director of the Dallas symphony , a fine orchestra which has had such well known conductors as the Mexican Eduardo Mata and the American Andrew Litton and others as music directors and made recordings for various record labels such as EMI , RCA and others . Van Zeden has also made recordings of the complete Beethoven and Brahms symphonies among other works in Amsterdam .
According to reports , the orchestra has reached world class quality under Van Zweden , known to be a very demanding and meticulous conductor , and the orchestra has released a number of recordings on its own label, including Mahler symphonies . Van Zweden has also been conducting concert performances of Wagner operas , and he is currently working on a cycle of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelung with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which has also been conducted by many eminent conductors including his older Dutch countryman Edo De Waart . Naxos records is recording these live performances, and the first part of the four part cycle, Das Rheingold, has already been released .
But now Van Zweden has taken on one of the most prestigious , difficult and demanding jobs in classical music - leadership of the New York Philharmonic , a position which subjects a conductor to merciless criticism form all corners of the musical press .Eminent conductors such as Bernstein , Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli , Zubin Metha and others have received relentless flack from music critics in New York over the years and have been taken to task both for the repertoire they programmed and the way they have inbtepreted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire . This is no job for the faint of heart .
Current music director Alan Gilbert is a staunch champion of new or recent music by a wide variety of contemporary composers , and some critics , such as Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , are concerned about whether the new man will do enough contemporary music . In fact, Van Zweden is no stranger to contemporary music , but the question is will he do enough , and which composers will he champion ? Only time will tell, but Tommasini is keeping an open mind and has stated that Van Sweden deserves a chance to show what he can do on the job . This is a job where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't when it comes to programming ; many critics will blast you for not doing enough, or the kind of works they hope to hear , and unfortunately , too many New York Philharmonic subscribers have very conservative tastes and are reluctant to hear new works .
From all reports, the members of the New York Philharmonic respect and admire the man who will be their next chief and are delighted to have him ; he would never have been chosen without their approval . Only time will tell how the combination of Van Sweden and the New York Philharmonic turns out . But the signs are positive , and good luck to him . He will certainly need it !
After 40 years as music director of the Metropolitan opera , the renowned American conductor James Levine has finally agreed to step down from this prestigious and demanding post because of serious health problems which have plagued him for year
The veteran Met maestro will continue until the end of the 12015-16 season after which he will be given the title music director emeritus . At the age of 72 , Levine is not particularly old or superannuated as conductors go ; many have remained active well
into their 80s . But severe back trouble, progressing Parkinson's disease symptoms , sciatica and arm tremors etc have forced him to conduct from a motorized wheelchair and he has had to cancel numerous performances in recent years , not only with
the Met . His ailments also forced him to resign as music director of the prestigious Boston symphony orchestra .
Unlike many other conductors , James Levine has singlehandedly devoted himself to one position at the Met for the greater part of his life , and the two have become synonymous . After making his debut there in 1971 as a rising young conductor , he
became so popular with audiences, the Met orchestra and singers he was soon appointed music director , a post which America's foremost opera company had never had for some reason , and he carefully and painstakingly guided and molded the venerable
organization , the largest performing arts group in the world , building the Met orchestra into one of the finest in the world and initiating orchestral concerts with it in in Carnegie hall , working with the world's greatest opera singers and fostering the careers
of numerous talented young opera stars .
Under Levine , the Met's repertoire continued to grow and diversify greatly ; it had tended for many years to concentrate on the beloved staples of the repertoire by Verdi, Puccini et al to the neglect of new operas and and important operatic masterpieces
which it had never presented , especially 20th century works . Levine conducted the Met premieres of such operatic masterpieces as Alban Berg's Lulu , Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg , Mozart's Idomeneo and La Clemenza Di Tito , Benvenuto Cellini
by Berlioz, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess , Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani , Stiffelio and I Lombardi , The Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill . He also led the world premieres of several operas by leading American composers such as John Corigliano
and John Harbison , as well as revivals of operas which the Met had not performed for many decades , such as Francesca Da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai , Verdi's Nabucco and Ernani , and Smetana's The Bartered Bride among others .
Other Met premieres which he did not conduct included the Met's first performances of operas by George Frideric Handel such as Rodelinda, Rinaldo , and Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar ) , Capriccio by Richard Strauss , Satyagraha by Philip Glass ,
Doctor Atomic , Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams , Katya Kabanova, The Makropoulos Case and From The House of the Dead by Leos Janacek , Dvorak's Rusalka, The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Shostakovich ,
to name only a partial list .
Maestro Levine is scheduled to conduct three operas next season at the Met and the company under general manager Peter Gelb , is busy searching for a conductor of international stature to succeed him . This will be no easy task , but the brilliant
Canadian French conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who has conducted regularly there for several years with great success and is currently music director of the Philadelphia orchestra , is considered to have a strong chance of doing this .
Maestro Levine has led the Metropolitan opera through good and bad times , weathered numerous artistic , financial and labor crises , had his share of dazzling triumphs and controversial productions which failed to please the music critics ,
faced captious reviewers who faulted him for his interpretive approach to certain operas , complained bitterly about the design and direction of many operas , casting of singers and the quality of guest conductors - you name it .
However, under Levine, the Met has been able to engage such eminent conductors as Daniel Barenboim , Riccardo Muti, Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Christian Thielemann , Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev , Vladimir Jurtowski ,
Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel , and others . No matter harsh the critics may be, the Met audience adores James Levine, and rightly so , as well as its superb , devoted and hard-working orchestra and chorus .
This past January , Pierre Boulez , one of the most important composers and conductors of our time passed away at the age of 90 . Circumstances beyond my control kept me from posting a tribute to him immediately , but here is my attempt to do so now .
We have lost a musical giant , but also a highly controversial one . The French maestro and composer of some of the most complex and abstruse music imaginable had at least as many detractors as admirers , but no one could deny his importance to
the world of classical music or his brilliance as both a composer and conductor . Boulez was an austere cerebral genius and an extremely demanding musician , but musicians in the world's greatest orchestras , such as those of Berlin, Vienna, New York, Chicago
and Cleveland among others , had nothing but the highest regard for his enormous technical skill as a conductor and his personal kindness and warmth as a human being . He did not suffers fools gladly, as the old saying goes , and his opinions on many
other composers past and present were scathing .
Boulez sneered at any composer whose music he considered to be insufficiently avant-garde and too old fashioned , for example Dmitri Shostakovich , the Russian composer of epic symphonies inspired by the turmoil of life in the former Soviet Union .
The enormously popular music of Tchaikovsky was something he would have nothing to do with , and his contract when he assumed the music directorship of the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s specified that he would be exempt from conducting it !
The composers he championed were 20th century modernists such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Stravinsky , Bartok, Olivier Messiaen (his teacher ) , Debussy, Ravel, Elliott Carter, Edgard Varese , as well as the late romantic Gustav Mahler and others .
He never pandered to audiences at orchestra concerts . Boulez also conducted a limited number of operas in London , Paris, the Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany and a few other places . Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal at Bayreuth ,
Debussy's Pelleas & Melisande , Wozzeck and Lulu by Alban Berg, and Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg , for example .
The production of the Ring in 1976 , celebrating the centennial of the Bayreuth festival was the legendary controversial one where Wotan and the Germanic gods were portrayed as 19th century tycoons instead of wearing teutonic helmets among other
peculiar features . And Boulez's conducting was considered too cool, clinical and concerned with clarity of texture instead of a sumptuous wash of ripe romantic sonorities . Throughout his conducting career , which began when he felt the need to conduct
his difficult music himself rather than leaving it to other conductors in the 1960s , he was frequently accused of interpretations which were amazingly clear in texture , and meticulously prepared but cold and cerebral . But his performances were rarely
described as dull ! Boulez was obsessed with getting his orchestras to play exactly in tune, as his ear was amazingly sharp .
He was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 77 , and his predecessor was the glamorous and flamboyant Leonard Bernstein , renowned for his exuberant conducting gestures and leaps on the podium and his impassioned
spontaneous performances . But Boulez was extremely sober on the podium , conducting quietly and unobtrusively on the podium (he never used a baton, preferring not too .) He just stood there quietly beating time precisely . His ability to conduct
extremely complex contemporary music with dauntingly complex rhythms clearly was legendary . Many audience members were upset by his emphasis on rigorous 20th century music and his avoidance of flamboyant romantic works . But he managed
to attract audiences . His other major position had been with the B.B.C. symphony in London , where he also specialized in complex and daunting music . He was a beloved fixture at concerts of the renowned Cleveland orchestra for decades as well as
a regular guest with the Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic and London symphony among other great ensembles .
Boulez was born in Montbrison, France in 1925 and showed great aptitude both for music and mathematics in his youth , and studied in Paris with the great eccentric French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) whose strange and colorful music
was inspired by bird song, Hinduism and Buddhism, among other things , and had a love hate relationship with his music , which he sometimes conducted . Boulez was a champion of the so-called 3rd Viennese school of the great Austrian composer of 12 t
tone music, and whose techniques he adapted in his own way as a composer . But he even rejected Schoenberg's music as being insufficiently modern and wrote a nasty polemic piece called "Schoenberg is dead " shortly after Schoenberg died in 1951 .
Boulez once infamously declared than any composer who did not use the serial techniques of the modern school was "irrelevant " and "useless ". But audiences did not agree with him .
Among the most famous works of Boulez are "Pli Selon Pli " (fold by fold ) and "Le Marteau Sans Maitre " ( the hammer without a master ) and "Repons ". These are not works for full orchestra , but ones for ensembles of varied instruments, percussion,
and other instruments with parts for a vocal soloist with texts based on 19th century symbolist French poets such as Rimbaud and modern ones such as Rene Char . Forget about hummable melodies ; this is not the point of the music . Instead you get
a seemingly arbitrary texture of random notes scurrying about in no recognizable key . But there is absolutely nothing random about the music ; it is based on extremely complex techniques . There are some passages which are "aleatory " or based
on improvisatory techniques . Boulez also uses electronic music at times along with traditional acoustical instruments . This is anything but easy listening , but is all worth repeated hearings which enable you to get accustomed to it .
Boulez left numerous recordings , both of his own music and works by Schoenberg, Berg , Webern, Debussy , Ravel. Bartok , Messiaen , Mahler (the complete symphonies ) , Carter, Varese , Berlioz , and other composers for such record labels as Sony
Classical (formerly Columbia Records and CBS records , Deutsche Grammophon and Erato records etc . The Bayreuth Ring was released both on LP,CD and DVD , and there are also recordings of such great 20th century operas as Pelleas & Melisande by
Debussy , Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok , and Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu . Most of these are still available .
Boulez served as a mentor and teacher to many of today's leading composers in addition .
Classical music would never be the same after Pierre Boulez, and his enormous influence on it is a tribute to his greatness both as a composer, conductor , theorist and teacher .
This is a big question , and there are no easy answers to it . The present era has been a rocky one for too many of America's numerous symphony orchestras , and problems have been increasing for quite a few in Europe and elsewhere . An appalling number of orchestras have either folded or come dangerously close to folding , and many everywhere are struggling to meet the costs of staying alive .
Virtually any orchestra anywhere is at potential risk of going under and even some of the greatest in the world such as the world-famous Philadelphia orchestra , have been experiencing serious financial difficulties .
The costs of running a quality orchestra are considerable ; in order to attract the best players, an orchestra must offer competitive salary ;
there are the costs of salary for the music director , the musicians, and the administrative staff , which are considerable . There is always the problem of selling enough tickets , and sold out halls are not something which happens every day , for a variety of reasons . Even if an orchestra could sell out every concert, this would not cover the considerable expenses of running it .
Unlike European countries , where orchestras and opera companies have been heavily subsidized by the government for so long , there is
pitifully little government help for classical music organizations , and businesses and philanthropists do not offer nearly enough help .
And recently, because of economic problems, more and more European governments have been forced to make cuts in support for orchestras
and opera companies, causing a number to go under or exist in diminished circumstances , with lower pay for the musicians .
The situation in Europe is still nowhere near as dire as in America, though .
The audience for classical music has been growing older and older, and fewer young people seem to be interested in attending orchestral
concerts in America . The abandonment of school programs introducing young people to classical music is to blame for this largely,
although there are isolated exceptions .
The National Endowment For The Arts could do much to remedy this unfortunate situation, but its government budget is pitifully small ,
and its job is to support the arts in general, not only classical music . Our government COULD greatly increase its budget without causing
any financial distress to the nation as a whole, but unfortunately , too many conservative politicians in congress are too dense and
philistine to realize this and more than a few would like to see the NEA abolished altogether . They believe that the NEA puts an unfair tax burden on citizens and does nothing but subsidize "obscene " art in museums, which is idiotic .
More than a few music critics and other classical music pundits have been questioning the relevance of the symphony orchestra in the 21st century . According to them, it is a "dinosaur " and a "museum ". They claim that people in the present era cannot see the symphony
orchestra as something meaningful or important to them ; it is a dated , hopelessly irrelevant relic of the past which is nothing but a
vehicle for rehashing music by "Dead, White , European Males , " but this is a half truth .
True, much of what orchestras play IS music by "Dead White , European Males , " but what could be wrong with this ? The music of such
great composers as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak and others is still played for a good reason - it's magnificent music which has stood the test of time and which still thrills audiences today as much as it did in the past .
But orchestras DO play more music by living or recently deceased composers than most people realize , and some of the composers are LIVING White European males , and even Americans, Asians, Latin Americans as well as women , believe it or not .
The repertoire of the symphony orchestra today is more diverse than ever before ; a vast accumulation of repertoire going back well
over 200 years exists ranging from the 18th century to the present day , unlike the time of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, when the orchestra as we know it was a relatively new thing .
If more people, not only teenagers and young adults could only realize how enjoyable attending concerts can be, as well as listening
to CDs and streaming classical music on the internet etc , they would WANT to make orchestral concerts a part of their life .
The only problem is GETTING more people to realize this . Music you enjoy can never be "irrelevant " ! The symphony orchestra can and will survive .
Recently , London's Royal Opera , Covent Garden revived a legendary , rarely performed opera by Gioacchino Rossini (1792 - 1868 ) , best
known for his beloved comic opera The Barber of Seville . This was the famous William Tell , made famous by its use on "The Lone Ranger ".
The famous overture is just the opening of a huge , nearly four hour long operatic epic based on medieval Swiss history , when Switzerland
was under the tyrannical rule of Austria . Because of its great length , extremely demanding parts for the principal singers and overall
unwieldiness , the opera has never been performed frequently , and revivals are always musical events .
The opera is chock full of wonderful music beyond the famous overture , though , so it's definitely worth seeing if you ever get a chance .
It has also frequently been performed with extensive cuts for practical reasons .
But the recent production in London provoked considerable critical outrage because the director , who shall remain nameless ,
indulged in some of the typical directorial mayhem which has been plaguing European opera productions since the 1970s . This dramatic
perversity has been labelled "Eurotrash opera ", or "Regie theater " , in which directors and designers take truly unwaranted liberties with
dramatic values , such as adding all manner of gratuitous sex, violence and ridiculous arbotrary production gimmicks .
If the great composer Rossini were alive today , he would no doubt have suffered heart failure during one of the opera's ballet
sequences in this production . In one scene , Swiss peasants are dancing in honor of the tyrannical Austrian ruler of Switzerland, the one who
orders Wiilliam Tell, leader of the Swiss resistance , to shoot an arrow in order to attempt to shoot an apple off his son's head .
The director perversely turned the ballet into a dance by Austrian soldiers who strip and brutally rape a young Swss woman !
He claimed that this was intended to show the "ugliness of war", or something to that effect . But was this really necessary in an opera
like this ? I think not . The London music critics had a field day denouncing the director, as well they should have . But such excesses have
unfortunately becme the norm in European opera companies, especially Germany , where it's de rigeur to do all manner of perverse
things to any given opera . You almost never see an opera staged in its original time or even location . Or possibly it will be in the
country of the original libretto , but it will be in the present day . Updating the operas is far from the worst part of these productions ,
and is not really objectionable in itself . But the directors and designers always seem to have some ridiculous arbitrary gimmick up their
sleeves, just for shock value . Such as showing *** executing people even in an opera which takes place centuries before the second world
war , and other preposterous gimmicks .
There have been a fair number of productions in America and Canada which update operas and use gimmicks, but they fortunately tend not
to be nearly as perverse as the European ones .
Interestingly , this production will be coming to New York's Metropolitan opera in the near future , where it has not been performed for
at least 80 or so years . Whether the ballet will repeat what was in the London performances remains to be seen , but let's hope not !
The London production will probably be released on DVD before long , but there are at least two others in existence . Try the production
from La Scala, Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti , which dates from about 20 or so years ago . Such a great opera deserves better than
to be subject to gratuitous sex and violence . Leave poor Rossini in peace, please !
Habemus conductorem ! In a surprise move , the members of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic have chosen a dark horse to their next chief
conductor to take the helm from Sir Simon Rattle in 2018 when Rattle departs to lead the London Symphony orchestra . After failing to choose
a new chief maestro last month , the members of the orchestra , who choose their top man unlike most other orchestras , have chosen a
relatively unfamiliar name to the concertgoing public , a 43 year old Russian conductor who is currently general music director of the
presitigious Bavarian State opera in Munich and is better known for conducting opera than concerts . Vasily Petrenko is a native of Omsk,
Russia and has conducted leading orchestras and opera companies all over Europe as well as at the Metropolitan opera .
He is not nearly as well known yet to the classical music public as such renowned conductors as Christian Thielemann , Rattle, Mariss Jansons ,
Riccardo Chailly , Valery Gergiev , Daniel Barenboim and others, all of whom have been regular guests with the Berliners , and had only
conductoed the orchestra on three occaisions . But the musicians of the orchestra were so favorably impressed by Petrenko's conducting that
they have chosen himto succeed Rattle .
Although Russian , Petrenko has extensive experience conducting the operas of such quintessential German composers as Wagner
and Richard Strauss , and his conducting of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen at the Bayreuth festival in the past two Summers was lavshly
praised by leading German music critics and others .
Not having heard him conduct yet, I can't pass judgment on Petrenko , but everything I have heard about him so far indicates that he
is an outstanding musician and conductor . How his tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic will turn out is impossible to predict ,
as with every conductor who has just been chosen to lead a top orchestra , but for the time being , things are looking up for this magnificent
The great Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born a century and a half ago on June 9th , 1865 and died in 1931 , honored as the foremost
composer of that small but charming Scandinavian country . Unless you're fairly knowledgable about classical music , you may not have
heard of this highly individual composer , who was almost totally unknown in America until Leonard Bernstein discovered his music
in the mid 1960s and began to perform and record it with his then orchestra , the New York Philharmonic .
His music was not even that well known in Europe outside of Scandinavia . But things have changed , and Carl Nielsen has been
generally recognized as a truly great composer everywhere . Unlike his great contemporary Jean Sibelius of Finland , who was born the same
year , no leading conductors championed his music until fairly recently . The music of Sibelius had powerful champions in such great
conductors as Leopold Stokowski , Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli , Serge Koussevitzky and others .
Nielsen is a difficult composer to pidgeon-hole . He neither began nor followed any "isms". The only ism he ever followed was
individualism . Perhaps this caused the relative lack of appreciation he received during his lifetime . He was born on the island of
Funen in the Danish archipelago , the son of humble parents , one of 12 children . His father was a house painter and amateur
folk musician , and the young Carl grew up in the idyllic Danish countryside . He learned to play several instruments ,including
the trumpet but concentratted on the violin and studied at the Copenhagen conservatory under the leading Danish musicians of the day .
He became a member of the second violin section of the Royal Danish orchestra , which is the orchestra of the Royal Copenhagen opera
as well as playing regular concerts ; the orchestra still exists in the same capacity today . He also began to conduct opera and concerts there
while producing a wide variety of orchestral works, chamber music, choral works, two operas , etc and began to make a name for himself
as a composer in his native country and nearby Sweden , where he regularly conducted , including his own works .
Nielsen's most famous works are his six brilliant ,powerful and highly original symphonies ; they have finally gained a place in the
international orchestral repertoire and have been recorded fairly often by a wide variety of different conductors . His woodwind quintet , for
flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn is probably the greatest work for that combination of instruments . (There are more than you may
The delightful, witty and sparkling comic opera "Maskarade ", which takes place at a Copenhagen masquerade ball , is considered the
Danish national opera , is probably the only opera by a Scandinavian composer to be performed with any frequency outside of Scandinavia
and is available on DVD .
The clarinet concerto is probably the greatest concerto for that instrument , and the delightful violin concerto is finally coming into its own '
The flute concerto is also delightful . Orchestral works include the radiant concert overture "Helios" which evokes the sun rising and falling
on the Agaean sea , based on Nielsen's visit to Greece , the symphonic poem "Pan & Syrinx " based on Greek mythology , and the
"Imaginary journey to the Faeroe Islands " . as well as the scinitlating overture to "Maskarade ." The choral works are very interesting
but totally unknown outside of Scandinavia . They have been recorded , though .
The music of Carl Nielsen is full of energy ; it is optimistic and life-affirming ,although it can be grindingly dissonant at times . It is
the exact opposite of the brooding , mystical and dark music of his Finnish friend Sibelius , who was inspired by the specatacular
forests and primitive countryside of his homeland as well as its ancient pagan Finno-Ugrian mythology .
Nielsen's music mixes joviality , humor and optimism with stark, angular dissonances in a highly personal way . One of his greatest and
best known works is his 4th symphony , subtitled "The Inextinguishable " was inspired by the horrendous carnage of the first world war and
was premiered at the time . The concept of the symphony is that life is indestructable and there is an elemental life force in the universe
which would preserve life despite the horrifying destruction of the war . The work itself is not " inextinguishable ; it represents
the elemental will to life . The work is in four continuous movements without a break and is filled with fierce conflict and clashing
dissonances ; there is no central key such as C major or minor ; different keys clash with each other and fight for dominance .
In the 4rth movement . ther eis a fierce battle between two antiphonal sets of tympani which thunder at each other in an almost
terifying way . But the symphony ends with fiercely defiant optimism .
The even stranger 5th symphony has no subtitle . It is in two movements . Nielsen conceived of this unique work as a representation of the
elemental struggle between good and evil , chaois and order . Again, there is no central key and the symphony wanders from key to key
in a way which may seem chaotic at first but which proves to be highly logical . In the first movement a solo snare drum beats away
relentlessly amid whatsounds lile random noise and chaos ; eventually the player is directed by Nielsen to begin playing as though he
had gone berserk and all hell breaks loose in a terrifying battle ; but the drum is soon silenced and the movement ends in quiet
contemplation a clossal battle which has ended . The frenetically energetic 2nd movement is an attempt to rise above the
chaos of the first and ends again, in fiercely defiant triumph . No symphony like this had ever been written before .
You can easily obtain recordings of Nielsen's music led by such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein , Herbert Blomstedt,
Simon Rattle, Paavo Berglund . Sir Colin Davis and others , as well as his non-orchestral works . Check arkivmusic.com to order
them or amazon.com . You'll wonder where this wonderful music has been all your life !
This story isn't brand new, so please excuse me ; it happened last month , and it's as fascinating as it is important . The 123 members of the great
Berlin Philharmonic met last month at an undisclosed location to decide on a conductor to succeed Sir Simon Rattle as chief conductor when he
steps down in a few years to be the next prinicpal conductor the the London symphony orchestra .
Unfortunately , the musicians were unable to agree on the winning candidate annouced they will make their descision within a year or less .
Critics , commentators and classical music fans everywhere were sorely disappointed . There has been so much speculation ; it's a lot like
wondering who the next president of the U.S. will be . Everyone, or almost everone has a favored conductor he or she would like to see lead
this mighty ensembel with its illustrious history dating back to 1882 when it was founded . Previous chief conductors have included such
podium giants as Claudio Abbado , who passed away only last year at the age of 80 , Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwangler . Virtually all
of the world's foremost conductors have appeared with the Berliners over the years , and the orchestra has made an enormous number of
recordings under its chief conductors and guest conductors for such prestigious record labels as Deutsche Grammophon , EMI , Philips, and
The Berlin Philharmonic is a self-governing institution ; the members of the orchestra choose their chief conductors and guests as well
as winnders of auditions for membership in the orchestra , although there is a general manager who functions as an administrator .
In most other orchestras , the chief conductor or music director is chosen by the management with the input of the orchestra members ,
but the Berlins have control over the whole process .
Meetings to choose a chief conductor have been compared to Papal conclaves in Rome ; last month , the musicians were required to
temporarily surrender their cell phones for the vote .
But this time, the musicians were unable to reach a majority vote , and the decision had to be postponed . The renowned Berlin born
conductor Christian Thielemann, currently general music director of the presitigious and historic Saxon State opera in Dresden and the
presitigious Dresden State orchestra, which fiuctions both as a concert orchestra and the opera house's orchestra , has been considered
to be the most likely candidate by many, and he was a protege of the legendary Herbert von Karajan many years ago before he became
world famous . Other conductors who had been regular guests have been considered possibilities, such as Latvian Mariss Jansons , who
may be too old at 72 , Daniel Barenboim, the same age , and for many years general music director of the Berlin State opera , or younger
ones such as Venezualan Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or Latvian Andris Nelsons, recently installed as music director of
the Boston symphony , but Nelsons is unlikely to give up Boston so soon or lead both orchestras simultaneously . Now it's anyone's guess .
Could a dark horse emerge ? Who knows ?
If you ask me "who is my favorite composer , my favorite conductor , pianist , violinist , opera singer , orchestra " , sorry , I just can't choose
from so many great ones , living and dead . But this is a characteristic of mine ; I'm hard pressed to tell you my favorite book , magazine ,
newspaper , film , television program , food, drink , website , or what have you .
I've been listening to , reading about , studying and performing classical music for nearly 5o years now, since I was only about 13 years old . .
I've experienced so many great composers , works , musicians , recordings and live performances it's virtually immpossible to name my
favorites . Of course , I like some composers , some works and some musicians more than others , and dislike some , but it's like choosing
the favorite among your children .
Of course , I love the great established masterpieces of the repertoire by Bach ,Mozart, Beethoven , Wagner, and other famous composers ,
but there's so much wonderful music which is off the beaten path by composers who are not household names . Ever heard of such
composers as Karol Szymanowski , Carl Nielsen , Hans Pfitzner, Arnold Bax , Albert Roussel , Sergei Taneyev , Alberic Magnard ,
Jon Leifs , Wilhelm Stenhammar , Nikolai Myaskovsky , Charles Koechlin , George Whitefield Chadwick , Havergal Brian ,
Roberto Gerhard , Rued Langgaard , etc ? Probably not unless you're a real lover of classical music with a lot of listening experience ,
but all of these wrote some terrific music that is well worth hearing . And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to obscure
but interesting composers . They come from countries as diverse as Denmark , America , England , Russia , Poland , Sweden and even
Iceland in the case of Jon Leifs . And it's so easy to get recordings of their music now , even though your chances of hearing their music live
are not very great .
It's similar with recordings . You can get the music of Beethoven , Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky ,Debussy , Ravel et performed
by a galaxy of different conductors , orchestras , solists and singers ranging from the early 20 th century to musicians of the present day .
Take the nine symphonies of Beethoven alone ; among the most important cornerstones of the classical canon .
The first complete recording of Beethoven's iconic fifth symphony was made by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by the once
world famous Hungarian conductor Artur Nickisch around 1914 , under the most primitive recording conditions . An acoustical
recording made before electronic recordings . It's a fascinating document . Nickisch , one of the first superstar conductors , iived from
1855 to 1922 . He was born less than 30 years after the death of Beethoven in 1827 ! Since then , who knows how many
conductors , famous and not so famous , have recorded the Beethoven symphonies, many in integral sets of all nine .
Such legendary names as Toscanini , Bernstein , Stokowski , Karajan , Bruno Walter, Solti , Mengelberg , Klemperer , Carlos Kleiber ,
to name only a handful . The young Venuzuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel , born in 1981 , is one of the more recent ones .
How do you choose a favorite when you've heard so many recordings of just one famous symphony ? It's not easy .
You will like some more than others , but for me it's virtually impossible . Many conductors have recorded these symphonies
on two or more occaisions . The legendary Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan left no fewer than FOUR sets of all nine Beethoven
symphonies , beginning in the 1950s with London's Philharmonia orchestra , not to be confused with the London Philharmonic , and then
with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led for over 30 years . The last set was in Digital sound in the 1980s . He lived from 1908 to 1989 .
If you're looking for recordings of the Beethoven symphonies , it's a daunting task if you're a beginner .
As there is no one right way to perform a musical work, especially an immortal masterpiece , there are different approaches , and fans and
critics debate the virtues of different recordings endlessly . Which is the best ? Who has made THE definitive recordign of any of the nine
Beethoven symphonies . Well, there is no such thign as a "definitive " performance of any masterpiece . Different conductors have
changed their approach to interpretation over the years .
Do you want a classic recording by such greats as Toscanini and Furtwangler made between the 1930s and 50s in dated ,
less than high fidelity sound , or a more recent digital one recorded with amazing clarity and presence by eminent living maestros
such as Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly , Bernard haitink and others . You can also hear recordings on period instruments , with gut
strings, simpler woodwind instruments , valveless horns and trumpets and old fashioned tympany made with leather rather than plastic .
One thing is certain ; comparisons between different conductors and orchestras are fascinating . On one extreme, you have the
fast and furious recordings of the legendary Arturo Toscanini , so full of nervous energy , and on the other extreme , the slow, majestic,
weighty and deliberate recordings of the legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer . Which is right ? You decide , but no one
has a monopoly on the right way to conduct the Beethoven symphonies . As Beethoven has been dead for narly 200 years , we will
bever know which ones he woudl or would not have liked . But the arguments will never cease among different listeners .
But we should be greatful for the existence of so many different interpretations .
Possibly you will have your favorites . But I just can't decide . I'd rather just enjoy the music than worry about my favorites .
You probably haven't heard of Chinese-born American violinist Frank Hwang , but he's just won Classical Music's equivalent of the lottery ,
and one of the most prestigious posts in the world of the symphony orchestra . He's just been appointed to be the next concertmaster, that is
the principal violinist of the New York Philharmonic , oldest symphony orchestra in America .
He managed to beat out many other brilliantly gifted violinists from other great orchestras to get this plum job , so it isn't as easy
as winning the lottery through blind luck . He got the job through a combination of enormous talent and even more hard work developing
his talent from an early age, not to mention sheer luck . But the competition for such a coveted position is very much like the lottery in that
of getting such a job if you're a violinist are pretty much astronomical . It's tough enough to get a job as a a section violinist in a great
orchestra , or a position in any section , but Frank Hwang has achieved something which very few classical musicians will
ever do no matter how talented .
If you're interested to know how orchestral auditions work , you can check a post I did years ago when I first began my blog here
called "How do you get a job in a symphony orchestra " ? As a horn player , I went through this harrowing ritual many times, including
three auditions for the New York Philharmonic myself . Believe me, it's not an experience for those who are faint-hearted !
Hwang was born in China in 1978 but came to America with his family as a child , and was first taught the violin by his mother .
He went on to study seriously after initial lack of enthusiasm , studied with distinguished teachers , won many presitigious prizes
and appeared as a soloist with many leading orchestras as well as playing recitals and performing chamber music .
He became concertmaster of the presitigious Houston symphony , but when the renowned violinist Glenn Dicterow, who recently retired as
Philharmonic after over 20 years , he manged to beat out many other superb violinists for the job , and spent several weeks as a guest
concertmaster trying out for the job . This frequently happens at auditions . After winnowing out many applicants , the
finalists are sometimes given a chance to perform at actual concerts with the orchestra as a trial .
Music director Alan Gilbert , who will be leaving this post in two years , made the final choice of Hwang for the job . A committee of
members of the orchestra votes on candidates for any position , but the music director always has the final say .
So congratulations , Frank Hwang ! You have enormous shoes to fill , following in the footsteps of so many outstanding concertmasters
of the New York Philharmonic . It's a great responsibility being in the hot seat of a great orchestra .
The concertmaster is like the quarterback of a football team . It's an incredibly tough and demanding job , and the pressure
is enormous . The concermaster has to play any given violin solo in orchestral works , and is responsible for crucial tasks such
as regulating the bowing of the violins and being the liason between the violins and the conductor . Sometimes the
concertmaster plays violin concertos with the orchestra , or as a guest with other orchestras . Glenn Dicterow did this often and with
the greatest distinction .
Being the concertmaster of the orchestra has certain perks , such as being the highest paid member of the orchestra , and though
he won't make the same salary as the quarterback of an NFL quarterback , he has a very steady job and will last much lnger
on the job than any football player on the job and like the other members of the orchestra , will get generous benefits andd two months
paud vacation ! Not too shabby !
Today is the 90 th birthday of one of the most important and influential classical musicians of our time , Pierre Boulez . It would be difficult to
overstate his enormous impact on classical music in the 20 th and early 21st centuries , both as a composer and conductor , as well as a teacher ,
writer and theorist . He is now retired from conducting and composing due to failing eyesight and physical frailty , but the entire vast
world of classical music is celebrating his birthday today .
Born in Montbrison , France in 1925 , Boulez studied composition in Paris with the great French composer Olivier Messiaen at the
Paris conservatoire , and became known as a composer of rigorous , highly complex serial music which never pandered to
audiences and even alienated many listeners , as well as a champion of the 12 tone music of the so-called "Second Viennese school " of
Arnold Schoenberg , Anton Webern and other modern composers .
Boulez became known as an Enfant Terrible of contemporary music , contemptuously dismissing 20 th century composers who did not meet
his rigorous standards of modernity , Shostakovich , for example and once arrogantly declared that any living composer who did
not conform to rigorous atonal serialism was "irrelelvant" and "useless " , showing total disregard for what concertgoers expected ,
as well as alienating many other prominent composers . but he continued to produce works which gained performances and
earned the admiration of such musical giants as Igor Stravinsky . Most have been works for smallish ensembles of diverse instruments ,
including electronic instruments , marimbas and other exotic devices , some with solo voices . Three extremely difficult piano sonatas ,
and works with such strange titles as " The hammer without a master ", "Pli Selon Pli " (fold on fold ) etc .
He used the texts of once avant-garde French poets for his vocal works and these were reocrded a mumber of times , sometimes under
his direction . Boulez did not originally intend to become a conductor , but felt the need to in order to have his intentions best realized .
Boulez began to appear with such great orchestras as the Cleveland orchestra , the London symphony and others , and in the 1970s
became principal conductor of Lndon's BBC symphony orchestra , which was sponsored by the BBC and allowed him ample rehearsal
time to achieve performances of the greatest polish and precision . He also began to conduct opera , appeared regularly at the
world famous Wagner festival at Bayreuth , leading the controversial 1976 centennial production of Wagner's Ring , which brike with
traditional sets and costumes , and acclaimned productions of Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu at the Paris opera , and Debussy's Pelleas &
Melisande at London's Royal opera .
When Leonard Bernstein stepped down as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969 , Boulez took the orchestra over in
1971 . He was exact opposite of the the flamboyant , exuberant and highly emotional podium figure which Berbnstein was ;
he was sober , restrained and undemonstrative on the pppodium , and many critics and listeners accused him of being a coldly
analytic musician who favored a totally cerebral approach to music making . But all acknowledged his enormous technical expertise
and fastidious attention to detail .
The musicians of the New York Philharmonic were sometimes exasperated by his rigirous attention to detail in rehearsals and insistence
on achieving perfectly in tune playing , clarity of texture , that is making sure that everything in a score can be clearly heard , which is far
easy . Particularly with contemprary works with their enormous complexity .
Boulez avoided the audience -pleasing works of Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov and other Romantic era composers , with which he had no
affinity and even disdain for , concentrating on music by Debussy , Ravel, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Bartok, Stravinsky , Messiaen and
20th century composers. However , he did not bar guest conductors from doing the audience favorites .
When he stepped down from the Philharmonic in 1977 , he moved to Paris , where with the generous funding of the French government ,
he became director of a center for avant garde music called IRCAM , the International center for experimentation in modern music , leading
musicians who specialized in new music as well as experimenting with combining electronic and acoustical instruments . .
Boulez maintained his relationships as guest conductor with the Cleveland orchestra , the Chicago symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic
the Berlin Philharmonic and other great orchestras , but his activities as a conductor limited his time to compose .
AS a composer , Boulez began using Schoenberg's 12 tone techniques , but was determined to go beyond them and achieve
even greater complexity and compositional rigor . Shortly after Schoenberg's death in 1951 , he wrote a notorious article
called "Schoenberg is dead ", dismissing the great Austrian's music as no longer sufficiently avant garde . Music which was once
considered outrageous in the early 20 th century was now old hat to him !
If you are looking for tunefulness in music , you will never be able to grasp the music of Boulez . But it rewards repeated listenings .
He has also made numerous recordings as a conductor for Sony Classical (formerly CBS and Columbia records ) Deutsche Grammophon
and other labels of music by Debussy, Ravel, Wagner, Mahler , Schienberg , Webern , Bartok , Stravinsky ,Messiaen and other composers ,
including operas by Wagner , Debuusy , Schienberg , Berg and Bartok , many of which have won awards , such as the Grammies .
Boulez has served as a mentor to many younger composers and conductors who went on to achieve world fame ; Daniel Barenboim ,
for example . He is a giant of modern music , as uncompromising and forbidding as he may seem .
According to conventional wisdom , the world of classical music is staid and set in its ways , and slow to change . There is some truth to this
accusation , but things are still vastly different from its past . No longer is classical music dominated by white, preferably European males .
There are still plenty of them in the field, which is not necessarily a bad thing . After all , dead white European males are pretty much
what brought classical music into existence many centuries ago , and they have dominated the field as composers , conductors ,
members of orchestras , instrumental soloists etc .
But in recent years , women and non-whites have been achieving unprecendented prominence in all the fields just mentioned .
something which would have been unimaginable in the past . Of course, there have been countless famous and beloved female opera singers ,
as well as a fair number of female violinists , pianists , cellists etc . However, there have been far more women composers than most people
realize , but because of sexism , they never achieved the public recognition might have gotten had they been male . The sisters of
both Mozart and Mendelssohn were composers of considerable talent , as well as performers, but as women things were
against them . Robert Schumann's wife Clara was a renowned pianist who also composed , and some of her music has been recorded .
There are so many from the past who are now forgotten , but a surprising amount of their music has been recorded in recent years .
But today , there are more women composer before the public than ever before, and some of them have been widely performed .
Among them are Sofia Gubaidullina of Russia , Kaaia Saariaho of Finland, Judith Weir of England, and Jennifer Higdon of America , to name
only a few . Now, it's not even news when an orchestra performs a work by a woman composer .
Until recently, the field of conducting was dominated bywhite males . But more and more are starting to appear with the world's leading
opera companies . Marin Alsop , a New York native and protege of Leonard Bernstein , is the first woman to be appointed as music director o
the Baltimore symphony , and has made recordings with them and achieved considerable acclaim . Australian Simone Young served until
recently as music director of the Hamburg State opera , one of the most prestigious in Germany . Susanna Malkki of Finland is rapidly
achieving international recognition , and she has even been touted as a long shot to become next music director of the New York Philharmonic
when Alan Gilbert steps down .
There are many others , too many to mention here . 50 years ago , there were very few women in mosy of the world's top orchestras ,
but now there are plenty of them . This began when orchestras adapted blind auditions , with candidates playing behind a screen , which they
still use .
Asian countries such as Japan , China and South Korea have been major players in classical music for many years . Japanese conductor
Seiji Ozawa turns 80 this year , Chinese superstar Lang Lang sells out audiences everywhere . and there are so many others .
Japanese , South Korean and Chinese musicians are now common in leading orchestras everywhere , as well as Asian Americans /
Young and enormously gifted Asian aspiring classical musicians are now filling leading music schools all over America , such as
Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia , and others . They are actually a majority at Juilliard .
The renowned Vienna Philharmonic , which in order to preserve its traditional sound , has always favored native born
Austrian male musicians , has been subject ot considerable criticism for failing to give women and Non-Austrians a chance , has
gradually begun to accept some of these lately .
Unfortunately , African Americans still make up only about one percent of American orchestras . but this is not due to discrimination , but
the fact that very few African Americans have ever aimed at careers in orchestras . But no one is standing in they way , and
blind auditions guarantee that they will not face discrimination . There are no doubt some talented aspiring young black
instrumentalists now , and there is no reason for young blacks with talent not to aim for a career in them .
Opera is the field within classical which has produced the most African Americans , and these include such legendary
opera stars as Leontyne Price , Marian Anderson , Grace Bumbry , Shirley Verret and others .to name only a few .
Marian Anderson was the first balck singer to star at the Metropolitan opera , as far back as the 1950s .
The late Henry Lewis was the first black conductor to appear at the Metropolitan opera, and first to be music of a major
US orchestra , the New Jersy symphony orchestra . Marian Anderson's nephew James De Priest , who passed away last year ,
was an internationally acclaimed conductor who appeared with leading orchestras around the world for decades .
Maybe the world of classical music is not quite as staid as we've been led to believe by critics and commentators !
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